It has been so long since I’ve opened this page that I fully expected it to have disappeared into the ether, but it’s still here and I’m still enjoying Blogland so deep breath and here goes with filling the gap since I last posted.
Today is Candlemas, the halfway point between the shortest day and the spring equinox and although I’m not at my best throughout the winter months, I’m slowly emerging into the light as the days lengthen and I’m looking forward to Lent (“lencten” the season of lengthening days). Last year I managed to hang onto summer until November as we travelled south from Naples to the beautiful hilltop medieval town of Pisciotta. We stayed in a former convent which nestled beneath the town palazzo and walked down through olive groves every day to swim in the limpid Mediterranean Sea and read and picnic on the sandy beach. We visited the Greco Romano site at Paestum with its amazing temples and impressive Roman remains and we took a boat trip with a fisherman to see the famous blue lagoon. This part of the Cilento coastline is renowned for its anchovies and swimming off the boat amidst shoals of these tiny fish was wonderful.
Christmas is possibly my least favourite time of year (in spite of my love of carol singing, mince pies and Christmas trees I find the commercial pressures overwhelming) and I always feel a palpable sense of relief when Boxing Day dawns. We rounded off the Christmas holidays with a family treat to Wilton’s Music Hall to see The Box of Delights – a magical experience and I thought of my mum whose cloth bound copy of TBOD by John Masefield I used to read over and over until she gave me my own Puffin paperback edition.
And then everyone is back to work and university and while browsing property websites I spot an interesting house for sale and make an appointment to view and before we know it we’ve made an offer and our house is under offer too and we’re finally underway with moving.
It was August 2016 before we extricated ourselves from our last escapade into the property market and although there was closure of sorts there was still the most unbearable sadness of opportunity lost, of failure, of being back where we had started after all that effort and work and it has taken me months and months to throw off that feeling. Up until 2015 I had never been an anxious person and had mostly sailed through life bursting with confidence. But I found myself unable to speak, to sleep, racked with self-doubt, tearful and desperately unhappy. I thought once we had sold the cottage everything would be fine, but it wasn’t and I felt worse than ever. I just about got through Christmas 2016 and felt a bit better (my last blog post found me planning for 2017).
Then in April and after a chat at my allotment with a retired GP who persuaded me that an area of skin that stubbornly refused to heal needed looking at I attended the hospital’s Maxillo-Facial department and a skin cell cancer was diagnosed – on my nose. Six weeks of aggressive topical chemotherapy ended on the 26 June (my mum’s birthday and always a favourite day so a very good omen) and by the 10 July (my daughter’s graduation day – she got a First and I could not have been happier for her) my nose was healed and is still completely fine.
Roll-on to September and I went to my local optician for an eye test and she discovered a sign of possible sun damage to the back of my eye. Because of the synchronicity with the skin cancer I was fast-tracked to the Ophthalmology department for the most thorough eye examination and on the same day given the all-clear to my immense relief. All year I have been wearing SPF 50 regardless of the weather, hats when it is sunny and now sunglasses too. My skin tans easily and I’ve never bothered with sun protection – more fool me, but I live and learn.
And now to the present and I’m finally ready to move on from my home and garden of 26 years and my allotment of 17 years and start anew. Of course nothing is certain yet but all the signs are promising for completion by Easter. The new house is a very practical proposition. It was built in 1974 of the local sandstone under a clay-tile roof so not pretty like the cottage but handsome in its own way and it sits in a plot of 1.6 acres with wonderful open views to the South Downs. Of course I have Grand Plans for the outside and go to sleep dreaming of them. Would you like to hear? There is a tidy half acre paddock which will become a blossom wood with the grass left to grow and paths mown through. Dan Pearson gave me this idea during a recent visit to the Garden Museum in London when I sat transfixed in front of a video loop while Dan took us around his Somerset farm and showed us his blossom wood where trees blossom from February to May for the bees and insects and produce fruits and berries from August through the winter for birds and small mammals. (BTW Dan has a lovely website called Digdelve.com about gardens and landscape, growing and making.)
There is an empty chicken run which will become the kitchen garden. One day I may keep chickens, but not yet. I have a list of what to dig up from the allotment: the new quince tree, some of the new autumn raspberry canes, a root or two of rhubarb and my newest strawberry runners. I will slice Dahlia Onesta in two – she is huge now – and take a few heel cuttings from my red gooseberry. If all goes to plan and I work quickly I could just about make the deadline for planting one-year-old asparagus crowns. There is an old but functional greenhouse here too and this productive area is neatly enclosed by low beech hedging. A wild copse slopes steeply down to the dismantled railway line and I will transplant some snowdrops from the garden to here. The actual garden is almost a blank canvas and at less than half an acre, including the kitchen garden, not daunting. There is one particularly good feature comprising a sturdy Arts and Crafts-style pergola under which runs a paved path wide enough for a couple of chairs. The planting here is a little tired but that could be because I saw it in the depths of winter and come spring it will perk up and look gorgeous.
The house is in a little hamlet on a quiet country lane and is walking distance to the village where a new community shop and cafe is about to be built and even closer to a good pub. There is an active village community centred around a small primary school and church with lots happening, It is 30 miles from work but my husband will work from home two days a week as we segue into retirement.
I feel happier than I have for years. I’ve had a horrid time in recent years with lots of loss and loneliness, but I’ve also got to know myself better and am more prepared for this next chapter. I’ve been learning how to stop myself feeling sad which in my case has been following tried and tested strategies such as being outside and walking or cycling, resuming yoga and swimming. The hardest thing for me has been talking about it and I still find this very difficult. But when you do talk about mental health you realise almost everyone has some experience and talking and sharing and realising you are not alone can be so healing. I was brought up to get on with life, not complain, make the most of everyday, never say can’t. But sometimes we need to admit defeat and say I’ve reached rock bottom. Only then can we push off and start swimming to the surface. Writing this blog post today, like a few others I’ve written in the past has been so cathartic and I’m thankful for this.
I intend to resume blogging regularly. I love our small community of friendly supportive bloggers sharing our plans, trials and tribulations and successes and I’ve never stopped gardening and growing, picking and cooking. Sewing and making has been a lifeline too. When you stop it can take a big effort to get going again and the thought of pressing publish in a few minutes is frankly nerve-wracking. But I’ve managed to load some photos (I hope my beautiful daughter doesn’t mind featuring here, she has always been my staunchest support through everything) so here goes …
“It is good to be out on the road, and going one knows not where” – John Masefield